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Ultra-processed foods like white bread lead to premature death risk: Study

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Washington, Nov 14: According to a recent study, having processed foods including sliced white bread and sugary soft drinks can lead to higher risk of premature deaths.

The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the consumption of ultra-processed foods containing little or no whole foods in their ingredients contributed to 57,000 premature deaths in Brazil in 2019.

Ultra-processed foods like white bread lead to premature death risk: Study

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) have gradually been replacing traditional foods and meals made from fresh and minimally processed ingredients in many countries, the researchers said. These ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations, made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesised in laboratories, are known to be unhealthy, they said.

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The study found that increased consumption of these foods was associated with more than 10 per cent of all-cause premature, preventable deaths in Brazil in 2019. This is despite the fact that Brazilians consume far less of these products than countries with high incomes.

"Previous modeling studies have estimated the health and economic burden of critical ingredients, such as sodium, sugar, and trans fats, and specific foods or drinks, such as sugar-sweetened beverages," said study lead investigator Eduardo AF Nilson, from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

"To our knowledge, no study to date has estimated the potential impact of UPFs on premature deaths. Knowing the deaths attributable to the consumption of these foods and modeling how changes in dietary patterns can support more effective food policies might prevent disease and premature deaths," Nilson said.

The team modelled data from nationally representative dietary surveys to estimate baseline intakes of UPFs by sex and age group. Statistical analyses were used to estimate the proportion of total deaths that were attributable to the consumption of UPFs and the impact of reducing the intake of UPFs by 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 50 per cent within those age groups, using data from 2019.

10.5% of all premature deaths due to UPFs?

Across all age groups and sex strata, consumption of UPFs ranged from 13 per cent to 21 per cent of total food intake in Brazil during the period studied. A total of 541,260 (over 5.4 lakh) adults aged 30 to 69 died prematurely in 2019, of whom 261,061 were from preventable, non-communicable diseases. The model found that approximately 57,000 deaths that year could be attributed to the consumption of UPFs, which corresponded to 10.5 per cent of all premature deaths and 21.8 per cent of all deaths from preventable noncommunicable diseases in adults aged 30 to 69.

The researchers suggested that in high-income countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia, where UPFs account for more than half of total caloric intake, the estimated impact would be even higher.

UPFs replace traditional whole foods

Nilson noted that UPFs have steadily replaced the consumption of traditional whole foods, such as rice and beans, over time in Brazil. Reducing the consumption of UPFs and promoting healthier food choices may require multiple interventions and public health measures, such as fiscal and regulatory policies, changing food environments, strengthening the implementation of food-based dietary guidelines, and improving consumer knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour.

Reducing the consumption of UPFs by 10 per cent to 50 per cent could potentially prevent approximately 5,900 to 29,300 premature deaths in Brazil each year, the researchers added.

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